Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Great Mozart Ball Taste Test

Anyone who has been to Vienna has been confronted with the ubiquitous Mozart Balls. Sold in souvenir shops, the grocery store, and even museum gift shops, Mozartkugeln, as they are known in German, are round(ish) lumps of marzipan with a chocolate coating, wrapped in gold foil with an image of Mozart. At first glance it would seem that there is simply the single, universal Mozart Ball, but ’tis not so. In fact there are as many variations on these Kugeln (Kugel just means ball or sphere) as there are chocolatiers in Austria. So we decided to settle for once and for all: which is the best of the Mozart Balls?

Four little Mozarts, all in a row: Mirabell, Heindl, Reber, Hofbauer.
Four little Mozarts, all in a row: Mirabell, Heindl, Reber, Hofbauer.

I set out to assemble as complete a collection of Mozart Balls as possible. After trips through several waltz-playing souvenir shops and one Billa I wound up with products from four chocolatiers, displayed here from left to right: Mirabell, Heindl, Reber, and Hofbauer.

You, being an astute observer, will have already noticed that only one of these is, in fact, a ball. That’s the Mirabell, on the left. The others are really more Mozart Lumps. But that’s an even more problematic concept than Mozart Balls, so let’s just stick with the standard terminology, shall we?

And anyway, these things come in all kinds of shapes. As a bonus, I picked up a Mozarttaler (“Taler” is an old-timey word for a coin), and its counterpart, the Sissitaler, named for the Empress Elisabeth, who is an inexplicable obsession around here.

A Tale of Two Talers: Sissi and Mozart are BFFs
A Tale of Two Talers: Sissi and Mozart are BFFs

In the interests of scientific accuracy and also hilarity, I asked for a second opinion in this taste test. Please enter my spouse, respondent S below, who does not ordinarily eat sweets and specifically hates marzipan. Watching her choke this stuff down at 7:30 am was marital good times! So, shall we begin?

Here are the contenders, in the same order as above, cut in half so you can see their guts:

Denuded and deconstructed, a view inside the Mozart ball.
Denuded and deconstructed, a view inside the Mozart ball. They are, again, Mirabell, Heindl, Reber, Hofbauer, and we will taste them in that order.

Mozart Ball #1 (Mirabell):

Me: There is a strong flavor of marzipan and the marzipan itself is very smooth, which I like, but the chocolate on the outside is weird — it’s kind of gummy and has a funny flavor. I think they added something to it to make it wrap around the marzipan, and whatever that something is, it is not so pleasant.

S: Gar nicht so schlecht. Schmeckt sehr nougatmässig. Translation: Actually not so bad. Tastes kind of nougaty.

Mozart Ball #2 (Heindl):

Me: Mixes marzipan with a kind of semi-sweet chocolate cake that a bit overpowers it. Chocolate shell is sweeter than the Mirabell one, but has a better consistency. For me it’s too chocolatey.

S: Marzipan ist sehr grob, und schmeckt wie Marzipan, was ich nicht mag. Schokolade ist irgendwie nicht so überzeugend. Translation: The marzipan is coarse and tastes like marzipan, which I don’t like. The chocolate is not very impressive.

Mozart Ball # 3 (Reber):

Me: Has a chocolate gouache ball in the center and a powerful flavor of liqueur. Really very marzipany. Also very boozy. The center totally overpowers the chocolate coating. It seems hitting a good filling/coating balance is the key to the Mozart Ball. That said, I like marzipan, so it’s ok.

S: Ich finde die verschiedenen Geschmacksrichtungen überlagern sich, und die Konsistenz ist auch nicht so überzeugend. Wenn man jede Schicht allein schmeckt ist es nicht so schlimm. Translation: I find the various flavor elements interfere with each other, and the consistency is not so great. If one tastes each layer alone it’s not so bad. Also I am beginning to feel sick, and think I may vomit. (That last bit was said off the record, but whatever.)

Mozart Ball #4 (Hofbauer):

Me: Veeeeery sweet. Just so one note, the marzipan has very little almond flavor, but the chocolate stuff in the center doesn’t have a lot of taste either. It’s like a sugar ball.

S: Schmeckt nicht gut. Translation: Yuck.

 BONUS: The Taler Tasting

They are stamped like communion wafers with the image of the flesh.
They are stamped like communion wafers with the image of the flesh. Sissi left, Mozart right.

Taler #1: Mozarttaler

Me: I love it! Sweet, creamy milk chocolate with just the right amount of marzipan — soft and sweet — it’s like a Viennese Milky Way!

S: Very smooth. Dissolves on your tongue. Doesn’t taste like much. (She forgot to speak German. She always forgets to speak German. This is why my German sucks.)

Dear God, what is oozing out of that thing on the left??
Dear God, what is oozing out of that thing on the left?? Sissi Sauce???

Taler #2: Sissitaler

Me: YUCK!! Who put jam inside this thing? It’s oozing with apricot jam! I hate apricots. And I really hate surprise jam! There should never, ever be surprise jam in one’s food.

S, having been asked once again to speak German: Hat es Alkohol darinnen? Schmeckt wie Alkohol. Dass mit den Marillen — ekelhaft. Translation: Is there alcohol in this? It tastes like alcohol. And that thing with the apricots — disgusting.

Final Rankings:

Me: Mozarttaler for the win. Then Reber, Heindl, Mirabell, Hofbauer, in that order.

S: Mirabell, Heindl, Reber, Hofbauer. No taler, please.

There you have it — a user’s guide to Mozart Balls. Shop with care, friends.

Posted in Culture, Food, Regan Writing | 10 Comments

5 Reasons to Love Tatort, And My 3 Top Teams

My dad likes to Skype on Sunday. He’s in New York, six hours behind me, so this often puts our call into the early evening. This week I replied to his email of the subject line “Wanna Skype?” with a brief reply: “Anytime before 8:15pm my time.” So there we were, on Skype on Sunday evening when I said, “Ok, Dad. It’s 8:10. We are in the last five minutes of this conversation. ‘Cause Tatort starts in five. And now you’re going to ask me, ‘What is Tatort?'”

“What is Tatort?” my dad obligingly asked. So where shall I begin?


I told my dad that Tatort is like the German version of Law and Order, only better. But I said that because by now it was 8:11 and things were getting tense. The first rule of Tatort is that if you miss the beginning you will never, ever get caught up. But the fact is that Tatort is not like Law and Order, except in the sense that it is a Krimi, and that it often has rather famous actors. It is unlike Law and Order in all of the following ways, which essentially constitute its peculiar appeal:

1. Tatort is only on on Sunday night. Nothing else of any importance is on on Sunday night. It is on everywhere in Germany and Austria, on Sunday night, at 8:15pm, without fail. It is never pre-empted. It is never not there. It is an institution. It even still uses its opening music and graphic from the 1970s (and you can really tell).

2. Tatort does not have commercials and is an hour and a half long, making it more of a movie than a TV show. The crimes are complex, as are the characters, and the longer timeframe means that the narrative twists several times in the course of an episode. It is truly unpredictable, every week something entirely new.

3. Each week’s Tatort is set in a different city, with a different pair of Ermittler (investigators). There are around a dozen different teams, and they come from places ranging from Berlin to Dortmund to Frankfurt to (proud to say) Vienna. Each team has its own peculiar dynamic and range; some are male-female teams, some old-young teams, some male-male teams. The investigation unfolds according in part to the character of the team — but since you don’t see them every week, or even every month, you don’t get sick of them. And when your favorite team shows up in the previews for the next week, you jump up and down a little. If you’re that sort.

4. Importantly, because Tatort is not dubbed from English (unlike the ubiquitous episodes of CSI and Criminal Minds and Law and Order and The Mentalist and Life and….you get the idea), it is extraordinarily difficult for a person learning German to understand . The pace is different, the phrasing, the rhythm of the conversations — I can’t explain it, but Tatort is just much harder to follow than a dubbed American show. It is therefore my personal goal to get to the point where I can watch an entire Tatort through from beginning to end without needing help. Currently, watching it is more like wrestling a snake than watching TV. After every exchange I have to hurriedly demand that my spouse tell me what the hell they just said even as more talking is going on — because there are no commercials, and so no chance to catch up. It leaves me utterly exhausted. But it’s that good.

5. In Catholic Austria, where everything is closed on Sunday, Tatort is folded into the pace of life. There’s no shopping to be done, no hurrying around, nowhere to be. Sunday is a slow day. You go for a walk. You tidy up the house. You cook dinner early, and settle down to watch Tatort at 8:15. It’s like the America of my childhood. But in German. And with better dinner.

Next week’s Tatort will feature Til Schweiger, who is like the German version of Tom Cruise in that he’s very famous and very, very short, but not like Tom Cruise in that he’s a good actor and not insane. Christoph Waltz was even supposed to be a Tatort Kommissar at one time (he did one episode). (He also did an episode of Kommissar Rex, by the way.) But these all pale in comparison to what I consider to be, listed here in hierarchical order, the very best Tatort investigative teams:

#1 Team Vienna (Eisner and Fellner): This team combines a hilarious middle-aged female investigator with a grumpy old male one; they crack a lot of jokes and have a companionable relationship. He, Moritz Eisner, is totally deadpan. His partner, Bibi Fellner, has this long, incredibly expressive face. They’re adorable, and they go all over Austria, meaning they offer plenty of opportunity to hear dialects from Viennese to Tyrolean.

Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner zu Gast bei der Verleihung des Nestroy-Theaterpreises 2010 im Burgtheater in Wien on 8 November 2010, as photographed by Manfred Werner - Tsui under a Creative Commons License)
Adele Neuhauser, who plays Bibi Fellner (photo credit: Manfred Werner – Tsui, under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License)

#2 Team Ludwigshafen (Odenthal and Kopper): To be honest, were it not for patriotism, I would make this my #1 team, entirely because of Ulrike Folkerts who plays Lena Odenthal. She’s fabulous. She’s gorgeous, gay in real life, and a terrific actress, with a loose-limbed physicality that’s very appealing. I like her German, too. Her partner, Kopper, speaks Italian, which is a bonus, and is a sort of greasy, hardened cop. They also have a great relationship — like Team Vienna, they’re both single, and buddies who occasionally crash at each other’s places. They’re adorable. Though none of this helps me understand where the hell Ludwigshafen might be, nor why they have so much crime there.

Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License
Ulrike Folkerts at the SWR Sommerfestival 2013 in Mainz, photo by René Kirchhoff under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License

#3 Team Berlin (Ritter and Stark): Technically, it’s not a list until there are at least three things on it. So I’ll pick a third here — Ritter and Stark — entirely because it is so entertaining that they are men of similar age but around three feet apart in height. Stark is tiny, and Ritter is a lanky, slightly older guy who spends the entire episode looming above his partner. As far as I can tell this inherently comical element is never mentioned, which is refreshing. You would literally never see casting like this played this way on American television. Ever.

You there in America. Yes, you. You too can watch Tatort, on YouTube! But, um, it’s not dubbed into English. Best of luck with the German. It kicks my ass every week.


Posted in Around Austria, Culture, Regan Writing | Tagged , , | 1 Comment